If governance issues at Prince Albert’s public library are not resolved by August it will be done through mediation, city council decided on Monday.
At issue is a communication breakdown between the John M. Cuelenaere Public Library (JMCPL) and the Wapiti Regional Library, JMCPL director Alex Juorio explained.
“We want a stable public library system for the people of Saskatchewan, and by fighting with Wapiti we can’t have that,” he said of the long-standing dispute.
“The problem stems from communication … The structures to counter problems are slow.”
Under the current system, money provided by City of Prince Albert taxpayers to the library is divided into two streams. One is the Wapiti Regional Library fund, which is allocated to payroll and collections. The other is the JMCPL fund, which covers operational costs like air conditioning and building repairs.
This year’s total budget request was $1.6 million, of which $1.3 million went through Wapiti and the remainder went directly to the JMCPL.
Wapiti’s control over these funds and a disconnect between the regional system and the JMCPL has resulted in a rocky relationship for quite some time. Now’s the time to fix things, Juorio said.
Although he’s hopeful things are resolved prior to mediation, there’s a lot on the table to consider, perhaps putting an August agreement out of reach.
“I was hopeful that it would have been resolved by Christmas,” JMCPL chair Ted Zurakowski said.
Zurakowski, who also serves as a city councillor, has taken part in five meetings with Wapiti officials in hopes of finding a resolve.
“These … meetings haven’t resulted in that resolution and I’m still hopeful —I meet with the chair this week on Thursday —that we can make some progress and mediation can be averted,” he said.
Although a report by city manager Robert Cotterill cites four pages’ worth of problems between Wapiti and JMCPL, they come down to a few basic issues, all under the basic overarching communication breakdown.
One issue that the regular library user will be familiar with is scoping — the ability to walk into the JMCPL and find out using a database if the book you’re looking for is there.
“Right now, you cannot do that,” Zurakowski said. “It gives you the whole Wapiti region. In fact, it may give you the rest of Saskatchewan … So the book you’re looking for may be shipped from Melfort, when it’s right on the shelf here at JMCPL.”
These … meetings haven’t resulted in that resolution and I’m still hopeful —I meet with the chair this week on Thursday —that we can make some progress and mediation can be averted. - John M. Cuelenaere Public Library chair Ted Zurakowski
From an internal financial perspective, a reserve system the Wapiti Regional Library executive committee passed in 2010 has also caused concern. The reserve system stipulates that each branch must contribute 15 per cent of their collections and payroll budget into a reserve held at the Wapiti Regional Library.
This represents about $200,000 per year for the JMCPL —funds that Juorio said are both not accessible and redundant, as the JMCPL retains local reserves that currently total more than $666,000.
Despite requests by the JMCPL board, regular information on the Wapiti-held JMCPL reserve balance is not provided, Cotterill’s report reads.
The JMCPL’s position as the Wapiti Regional Library’s largest and most used facility provides further issue.
“We are different from rural municipality libraries … and we’ve asked them to put us here and treat us like a special entity, and yet they have been reluctant to do that,” Zurakowski said.
Due to its size, the JMCPL is able to provide a great deal more service than the region’s smaller facilities.
Wapiti Regional Library provides information technology service to the entire region, except for the JMCPL, because the JMCPL provides its own contractor and purchases extensive software and equipment that is often supplied to other branches of the Wapiti Regional Library.
“This costs JMCPL tens of thousands of dollars a year, but JMCPL receives no compensation for this,” Cotterill’s report reads.
This, Zurakowski said, is part of of “the endless downloading of costs to JMCPL when we could in fact front those costs ourselves and provide a higher level of service.”
“We do things that add capacity to the region,” Juorio noted. “These services have a value and they should be acknowledged … We do things to generate value for Wapiti.”
“Council has followed the money and it just doesn’t make sense,” Zurakowski said.
“We have to come to a resolution one way or the other, and I hope that Wapiti sees the value of seeing JMCPL in the system.
“We want to stay within Wapiti and allow them do what they need to do, but at the same time we want to provide a higher level of service to our patrons.”